Date: June 1, 2022
“You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.”
From The Examination, Ordination to the Priesthood, Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 531
After 33 years of ordained life as a priest, and belonging to a lot of colleague groups, the vow to love and serve the people among whom you work is the source of many of the challenges that clergy speak about in relationship to the folks they serve. It’s not simply that humans are different and bring a whole host of gifts and challenges to congregations every minute of every day; it’s that there are always a few folks who excel in hooking the most imperfect and petulant places in any of us.
Being at VTS was a sustained experience of being in community for three years with any number of people who not only weren’t like me, it is where I learned what a very hard thing it is to love people who often challenged me and the silo of my previous life in a parish. Those three years inculcated a discipline of loving my classmates because they had gifts and talents that we shared, and that were vastly different from my own. These were gifts I knew the church and the world needed and that I could not give. In any number of congregations that discipline has been an icon of sorts about loving all of God’s people by looking for the gifts that live alongside the challenges. Relationships rooted in the love of Christ demand that of all of us.
As the 2022 Easter season draws to a close the insistent words of Jesus in the Gospel of John about love, and our imperative to offer it to the world that Jesus loves, grow more urgent every day. The largest country in Europe is being invaded and our lives from school to supermarket to church are deeply damaged by mass shootings. I can’t imagine a single mourner right now whose persistent memory of any victim is of their being annoying or challenging. Alongside that grief, the vow to love even our most challenging folks seems a small thing. Yet, it is by just such small things that the rule of God begins to become a reality. It is a love that casts out fear and perhaps will help us fear less and love more.
The Rev. Canon Mary Sulerud ‘88
Canon for Congregational Vitality, The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland